Chris Uggen's Blog: August 2009

Friday, August 28, 2009

state fair 09

We minnesotans have always loved our state fair, but we're especially happy when our li'l nephews from Brooklyn seem to enjoy it as much as we do.

I haven't hoisted Tor onto my shoulders since the early days of the Clinton administration, so it was fun to stroll through the barns and midway with Leif and Nils tonight. Leif especially enjoyed the giant slide, the old tractors on machinery hill, and the hucksters selling the last hose nozzle you will ever need. Nils enjoyed the ice cream, the music, the ice cream cone, and the ice cream.

Fortunately, I got a second wind when (brother-in-law) JD won the epic banana above in fierce water pistol competition. Still, by the end of the evening we were both as exhausted as the li'l dudes we were carrying.

Of course, I also made sure to enjoy my honey-sunflower ice cream, fried cheese curds, and pork chop on a stick -- and to enjoy some fine music at the smaller venues.

The li'l dudes hung in there pretty good, but they were positively wiped out by the time we departed the fairgrounds. We'll all be sleeping well tonight.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

like getting 15 yards for encroachment and only 5 for unecessary roughness

A recent AP article by Rachel Cohen compares the sentences of National Football League players Plaxico Burress, Donte' Stallworth and Michael Vick.
Burress, the one-time Super Bowl star, accepted a plea bargain Thursday with a two-year prison sentence for accidentally shooting himself in the thigh at a Manhattan nightclub. The former New York Giants wide receiver pleaded guilty to one count of attempted criminal possession of a weapon... Stallworth, the Cleveland Browns receiver, served 30 days in jail for running over and killing a man while driving drunk. Vick, the former Atlanta Falcons star quarterback who recently signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, served 18 months in prison for torturing animals and running a dogfighting ring for years.
Although people tend to rank the seriousness of crimes in roughly the same order, I'd wager that there is a higher-than-usual standard deviation around citizens' preferred sentence lengths for these three offenses. Felony DUI manslaughter has been very lightly punished in the United States relative to, say, Sweden; folks disagree on whether animal cruelty and gambling conspiracy should be felonies or misdemeanors; and, Mr. Burress actually pled out to "attempted weapons possession in the second degree." It is hard to say whether such a crime merits two years of hard time, though I generally favor vigorous enforcement of weapons offenses.

On average, one can't say for sure whether star athletes generally get lighter (ala Stallworth) or heavier (ala Burress) sentences, but ol' Ray Lewis seems to be rolling along just fine. The real punishment, of course, will be meted out by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The Commish can simply toss a handful of grass into the air, check which way the wind is blowing, and determine whether Messrs. Burress, Vick, and Stallworth will be NFL princes or bounced-from-the-league paupers.

Friday, August 21, 2009

and you can kiss my lad goodbye...

Dropping you down in Winona Tuesday, I knew everything was gonna be just fine. I can see you running along the river bluffs and blowing 'em away in chem and physics. Plus, your roommate Brent seems like a good enough guy. And don't think for a minute that I missed those glances you got in Prentiss Hall.

Oh, you'll have a fine time in college! Just ask for help when you need it, drop the course before you fail it (yer current MWF schedule is way too ambitious), and call me anytime. You know I don't sleep, son, and already I miss you sorely.

So, now that you're gone, I've gotta find somebody to run hills with in the morning and bump shoulders with after supper, and (when properly provoked) to put a fist through the drywall with during those Green Bay games. I'll give you until spring semester, but after that I'm ebaying the size-16 football cleats, rugby boots, and wrestling shoes you left by the back door. It isn't because I'm a neat-freak but because I get a little pang every time I see your shoes, cards, or jerseys. Don't worry, though, we'll keep your best stuff around for posterity and old-timers' games.

So where is all this emotion coming from? Maybe I worry that I didn't teach you much -- or that all I did teach you was my own (sometimes) piss-poor example. But I honestly don't care whether you're following my example or reacting against it -- I'm proud of the man you've become.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Though i learned a great deal from the 2009 sociology meetings, I was disappointed to hear a distinguished colleague suggest that "everybody in prison has committed crime" and that everyone he'd met in prison had drug issues.

My own experiences, and those of my pubcrim colleagues like Michelle Inderbitzin, are different. I'm no judge and i've got no special skills evaluating ballistics or other forensic evidence. Nevertheless, I've met enough men like Philip Scott Cannon to be especially careful about making generalizations about guilt or substance use. When I talked to Mr. Cannon this spring, he was fighting his conviction with a degree of calm and patience that was truly inspiring. I can't vouch for his innocence, but I know enough to raise serious questions about the evidence that convicted him. Today, after he'd spent a full decade in prison, his conviction was overturned. As Michelle writes,

he is no longer convicted, but he was still indicted on these charges and he will be transferred to the county jail to await a new trial. i only hope the district attorney doesn’t keep him waiting in county jail – where his youngest son will not be allowed to visit him – for long.

philip’s case reminds me that justice is messy, very human, and sometimes mistaken. i’m appalled it’s taken more than ten years for his conviction to be overturned, but relieved and glad that he’s getting a second chance to go to trial and have all of the evidence heard. i do hope justice is ultimately served.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

lose weight while you sleep on the amazing bigfoot diet

Minnversity colleague Gary Schwitzer's HealthNewsReview offers a clear-eyed appraisal of health features on morning news programs. Key findings:

The morning health news segments on ABC, CBS and NBC do the following regularly:

•Unquestioningly promote new drugs and new technologies
•Feed the “worried well” by raising unrealistic expectations of unproven technologies that may produce more harm than good
•Fail to ask tough questions
•Make any discussion of health care reform that much more difficult

here are a few concrete examples from features on obesity and weight loss:

ABC’s Good Morning America

Breakthrough obesity drug, July 21, 2009, Rating: (2 stars out of a possible 5)
Miscasts an experimental obesity Rx as potential "silver bullet" for people wanting to drop a few pounds. Oddly refers to interviewee's potential conflicts of interest as evidence of expertise. Huh?...

Super shot? Can it cut weight by 25%?, July 14, 2009, Rating: (2 stars out of a possible 5)
Woefully inadequate reporting on animal research on a weight loss drug. Makes the unfounded leap that this is a "promising new drug that could ultimately impact how to control obesity and diabetes."

Cutting the fat--without incisions: New weight-loss surgery, June 3, 2009, Rating: (2 stars out of a possible 5)

Breathless enthusiasm - not backed by facts about new incision-free approach to weight loss surgery. Story calls it "remarkable" and "exciting" but that results aren't as good as gastric bypass....

Blasting Inches Off Without Surgery: New Technique to Lose The Fat, January 5, 2009, Rating: (2 stars out of a possible 5)
This story medicalizes a normal state of health - a few additional pounds or inches. The story lacked evidence and data from the alleged 50,000 who've had it - an astoundingly poor use of air time....

CBS Early Show

The Real Skinny: Liposlim During Lunch?, February 16, 2009, Rating: (0 stars out of possible 5)
What the anchorman calls a "healthy, gorgeous" young woman gets lunchtime lipo with no discussion of evidence or whether insurance covers it. If your premiums went up because she was in your insurance pool, would you be happy?...

NBC Today show

Lose weight while you sleep? February 9, 2009, Rating: (0 stars out of possible 5)
NBC gave 5.5 minutes of free publicity to Glamour magazine's pseudo-scientific experiment, then made bold, baseless projections that women would "probably add about 7 years to their life". Amazing....

[via minnpost]

Sunday, August 02, 2009

closed-circuit to twins and (boston) braves fans

First we'll use Keppel,
then we'll use Crain,
Then watch our lead,
go down the drain.

Back will come Keppel,
followed by Crain,
we fear,
by two innings of pain.

The deadline has passed,
the bullpen is set,
When the starters offend,
the relievers abet.

-- with deepest apologies to gerald hern, johnny sain, and the great lefty, warren spahn.